Major changes to the formula, and nearly all of them work.
- Unique hybrid of RPG and RTS elements
- Four races, each unique and well balanced
- Long single-player that focuses on each of the four races
- Strong story about redemption, revenge, personal failings, and hope
- Shifts focus from massing units to smaller, more micromanaged skirmishes
- Strong competitive online multiplayer
- Map editor allows for some crazy scenarios
- Fantastic art design
- Graphics look technically dated
- Music isn't anything special
- The weird RPG/RTS fusion can turn a lot of players off
- Water units are gone from Warcraft II, though air units are still there
- Storyline leaves a lot of things unresolved
|The Reign of Chaos has come|
The LongI actually played and beat Warcraft III before Warcraft II. A friend lent it to me after I'd gotten my own tower computer, and I burned through the entire game rather quickly. As a long time fan of both Starcraft and the Age of Empires games, as well as this being about the time I was really getting into the old Final Fantasy RPGs, I loved the uniqueness of Warcraft III. At the time its colorful graphics and interesting characters captivated me, and it's odd mix of RPG and RTS elements where exactly what I wanted.
But I might be getting ahead of myself. Let me explain (in brief) Warcraft III.
|Which involves lots of crap.|
Storywise, Warcraft III excels. Similar to Blizzard's space opera Starcraft, Warcraft III has a well-crafted (get it? Crafted? Hur Hur) yarn at its core that even has a few dramatic plot twists. Essentially, the Burning Legion (aka Demons From Space) has shown up on the Warcraft world, with the intent of taking it over and turning all its inhabitants into undead. I don't get what they think they'll do after they turn everybody into zombies and burn everything to the ground, but villains in these things haven't really thought it all through. The story is then split between the four races: Humans, Orcs, Night Elves, and the Undead. Each has their own unique arc and purpose for fighting and level of involvement. It works because each race is self-contained while still being a part of this big whole. The Human campaign is about the young paladin Arthas who (in an "Anakin Skywalker" esque twist) is corrupted by his bloodlust and desire to destroy the undead to the point that he actually falls and becomes one (and one of the biggest villains in the Warcraft universe). The Undead missions continue Arthas' story as they move to take over the world of men. The Orc story shows their young warchief Thrall as he attempts to take his people across the seas to safety away from the Burning Legion, and the isolated Night Elves have to deal with the multiple refugees encroaching on their lands as well as the Burning Legion coming to destroy them.As it stands, I found the Night Elf campaign to be the weakest (which is too bad that it's also the last), with a resolution that was a big corny and the characters never proving compelling. The rest of them, however, are well written, and I was genuinely curious to see how each individual character arc was going to resolve.
|The full-3D allows for in-game cinematic, which look...ok.|
But the meat of any RTS (Real Time Strategy) is the gameplay, and it is here Warcraft III takes a unique tangent from other RTS games. Usually RTS games involve building massive armies with a good mix of soldiers, then sending them crashing into each other with casualties quickly escalating until somebody has some soldiers left and somebody else doesn't and the game ends. Warcraft III took this and turned it on its head with its unique approach to the genre.First off, the game focuses on doing two things differently: smaller battles with further emphasis on specific unit abilities, and heroes. We'll quickly break these down.
Warcraft III takes care in having every unit be useful from start to finish. In most RTS games, you start with crappy fodder units that are cheap and die easily and then abandon by the end of the game. Warcraft III does good to make sure every unit has a good balance of abilities, strengths, and weaknesses to make them viable. Even the crappiest Footman has his benefits: he can learn an ability to make him nearly immune to ranged fire, he's cheap, and you can buy them in bulk because they don't cost much "population" space. This spans across the races to every unit. Due to the massive diversity, you are required to diversify yourself or else you'll eventually face an opponent who has built your weakness en masse, and you'll be crushed. The balance is near-perfect (though Orcs seem a bit weaker to air than the others) and since your maximum population unit is substantially lower than other games, you'll have to pick your units very carefully.
Second is perhaps the biggest change: Heroes. In addition to building regular units, Warcraft III now has special hero units. These units level up, learn new abilities and spells, can purchase or pick up weapons, potions, and armor to equip, and even learn an "ultimate" at level 6. Heroes only gain XP when around battle, so it's important to either go around hunting down neutral "creeps" (killable creatures that come with whatever map you are playing) or fight enemies. Heroes can be revived but at a hefty cost, and they are also extremely powerful and tout the best spells in the game so it makes sense. While units are certainly important, having a level six hero when your enemy has a level three hero can completely change the tide of battle.
|Leveling up your hero is necessary to win|
It's this fusion of traditional RTS elements (unit diversity, finding a mix between ground and air units, etc) and the RPG elements with the Heroes that makes Warcraft III shine. Since you are limited to the number of units (and heroes) you can have, you are constantly required to make difficult choices. Do you spawn two heroes but have them split the XP, or just have one fat carry? Do you focus more on ground or air, offensives spells (with your hero's leveling) or defensive spells? Units are more expensive than other games, and the more of them you have the more "Upkeep" the game requires, meaning you'll earn a percentage less gold the more units you have. So you are effectively being penalized for having large armies, which makes you realize exactly how valuable they are. Every Footman death is noticed when they were expensive and important, so the game turns more into keeping your small squads alive and knowing when to strategically retreat rather than throwing mass bodies of soldiers against each other. It's a unique and fun twist on a tired genre.
|Though "more zombies" is never a bad strat. I think.|
This is combined with Battle.net, Blizzard's multiplayer service, which hits it out of the park. There's a robust ranking system, online leaderboards and ladders, and a matchmaker that is...ok, if a little slow. But the star of the show is the custom maps. Warcraft III's map editor is insane, allowing for some truly awesome feats for those talented. Several entire new genres of games (MOBA, and making Tower Defense games mainstream) spawned from Warcraft III, which goes to show that if you put the creative tools in the hands of your fans they'll make something awesome. Again: entire game genres from a map editor of an RTS game. It's insane.
|The game looks as colorful and vibrant as its predecessor.|
Graphically, Warcraft III is mixed. The art design is fantastic, setting up a theme that would later be used in its blockbuster World of Warcraft MMO. It's bright and a bit cartoony while still able to be dark and methodical, which fits. Effects look particularly flashy, and the attention to detail on the units is astounding. Unfortunately, time hasn't been kind to Warcraft III, and it's 2002 3D isn't nearly as impressive as it was a decade ago. Units have high polygon counts and look blocky, and though they are still well animated they kind of now look more like blobs rather than actual units. Bumping up the resolution can help, and one still can't help but be impressed at the art, but it still stands that the graphics don't look particularly good anymore.The music is also a bit of a disappointment. After both Warcraft II and Starcraft had some catchy, memorable tracks, Warcraft III's fully orchestrated soundtrack seems content to sit in the "background noise" category of music. It isn't bad, it just isn't memorable or particularly enthralling. Which is too bad considering the pedigree.
|Units have a good mix of attacks and spells|
As it stands, Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos is a standout title among RTS games. Despite a few minor issues, the game is an excellent one, and is certainly worth looking into. It's had a polarizing effect among fans for it's design choices to shift towards a more RPG, micromanage heavy style, but I personally love it. It's hard to master, even if you are good at other RTS games, and the hefty single player gives you plenty of value even if you never journey onto Battle.net. The only reason this game isn't as well played as it used to be is because it's expansion, The Frozen Throne, essentially took everything that was good in this game and ramped it up, including the map editor. But that's a review for a different time.As it stands, I'm content giving Warcraft III a four out of five. It isn't for everybody, and the expansion pack essentially made this first game obsolete, but its still a single-player blast which you should check out (as with all of Blizzard's games).
|Plus, you can have an epic "Bears vs Tanks" battle. What other game has that? NO OTHER GAME IS THE ANSWER.|